Could this be you?

Hey, I want your attention. Yes, I want you to spend a few minutes reading this. It could be the most important thing you ever read.

However, I don’t want just anyone to read this. This is aimed at men. There are also some things that you need to have done first – not now, but something you have done at least once in the past. Honestly consider whether you have ever done either of these. Come on, I want honesty.

Have you ever been in a chat-room? Yes? And have you found yourself talking to a young girl, maybe 16? It doesn’t hurt anyone, does it? It’s harmless, right? She is pretty, mature, street-wise. It’s a bit of fun. You would never really do anything. It’s all virtual, not real. Anyway, it’s all anonymous. You just have to be careful. No real names, no addresses, no one can trace you. It’s all a private matter.

OK, that’s one scenario. Let’s do another. Have you ever been curious? You know – what’s out there? Young pictures. Girls. Again, it can’t hurt. It’s out there. You didn’t make the pictures. You’re just looking. Just a few, a handful of times. It’s just curiosity. Sure, it’s slightly arousing, not least because it’s forbidden. You have normal tastes.

Right, have you ever done either of those? If you have, I’m not going to preach. I guess you thought I was going to? That I was another holier-than-thou do-gooder? Well, far from it.

I have done all of the above. And that’s why I want you to read this. I want to tell you my story. You see, I really want to scare you. I want to scare you away from your computer, out of the chat-room, away from those downloads. I want to stop you in your tracks.

So, who am I? I am sorry – I can’t tell you. ‘Oh, yes,’ I can hear you saying. ‘Sure. This is all b*llsh*t. It’s fiction, a fairy story.’

Well, I’m afraid this is real. I am going to tell you what happened to me, is happening to me. The fact that it is happening is one of the reasons I have to remain anonymous. You might think that it’s the fear of prosecution, but it’s certainly not that. I am actually going through the legal process now, which should give you some idea of what I’m going to tell you. It’s all still in the Court, which is reason number one why I can’t tell you who I am.

Reason number two is that I have a wife (soon to be my ex-wife) and children whom I adore, and I want to limit the damage to them as much as possible. I really don’t know how much I can do so, but I have to try.

Reason number three that I can’t tell you who I am is that I have a career – at least, at the moment I have a career. At present, it is the one remnant of normality I have left in my life. I know that soon this will end too.

I’m not telling you this so that you can feel sorry for me. If you think that, stop reading now, because you have missed the point. What I’m trying to show you is that I am so like you. I am not some sad single guy in a bed-sit or living with his mum. I am a professional, a member of a respected organisation. I work for a big company. I am well known. You may even know me. I might be sitting across from you in the train. I might be on your flight. I might even be in a meeting with you today. I actually have nothing to gain from writing this, and potentially I have a lot to lose.

I still think it is the most important thing I have ever done, writing this piece, and maybe after reading it you will think this is the most important thing you have ever read.

Before I tell you what I did, I want to tell you a little bit more about my general background, again not to have you feeling sorry for me, but in the hope you will see something of yourself in me.

I was never an absent father, spending ten hours a day or more at work and never seeing my children. Until late last year, I did most of the school runs, perhaps 60% of the cooking and sandwich-making in the morning. I helped out with school, worked with kids, laughed with them, played with them. I lived in a town. I was part of the community, church, school. I was the easy-going, familiar face, a trusted friend, a joker.

Until, one day, it all ended . . .

I want to tell you first what is facing you, what you are risking if you continue, and then I will tell you what I did. I am going to share my Calvary with you.

Since late last year, I have not spent any time alone with my children. I have not been allowed to. I have not seen them in a morning, nor tucked them up at night. I have not been on holiday with them. I have not watched them compete at their sports, nor heard them play at their concerts. I have seen them once a week for two to three hours at weekends.

That is my pain. Imagine my children’s pain. Imagine yours. Can you?

That is the single worst thing that I have gone through, but it is far from being the only one. Imagine the effect on my wife. Betrayed. Now alone, having to do the work of two parents and hold down a responsible job – she is a professional too. Sometimes she can hardly bear to speak to me, the pain is so much.

I could tell you about the time I spent being interviewed, followed by the hours spent in a cell at the interview centre, stripped of belt, shoelaces and, worst of all, wedding ring. The bore-dom of a bare cell, a plastic-covered mattress, nothing to read, left with your thoughts while the screams of the drugged, angry and drunk echo around you. That has happened twice, for a total of perhaps six hours but, I can tell you, it seemed like sixty.

I could also tell you about how your self-contained life, where you make the decisions, ends. How the police take every computer and storage device out of your house, whether it is yours or your children’s. How Social Services come and visit your family, under-trained, under-staffed, possibly inexperienced, with a one-size-fits-all way of working that is applied to the feckless and the middle class alike.

Is it all over in a few weeks? No. From going to the police station (which I did of my own accord) the process has so far taken nine months. This is with my complete cooperation, remember. I had one interview on the day, then another one a month ago, long delayed and repeatedly re-scheduled. This is not criticism, it’s just how it is. I want you to know what it’s like to wait and wait for the other shoe to drop, as they say. It’s like the long, long walk to your execution. The pressure racks up and up while you wait and just exist.

This week I went to the Magistrates’ Court. I hoped this might be the end of it, but no. After waiting for four hours with the misguided, the feral and the deniers of guilt, my hearing lasted five minutes before I was sent on to the Crown Court at some point in the future, with a brief return to the Magistrates in another six weeks. These things do not move quickly.

I will now tell you what I did. For reasons that I could offer some mitigation for, but won’t, I frequented chat-rooms. I cannot say I enjoyed being in the company of the lost and lonely, sometimes sad and freakish, but I was addicted to it. I actually made some good friends. Sometimes I talked to girls under sixteen. I didn’t seek them out, it just happened; it didn’t matter, it was harmless. A few I got to know really well, and I had affection for them.

One, last year, was called Gemma. She was fifteen. She was bright and troubled, like I was as a teenager. She had some of the same interests as I did. We laughed and joked, flirted a bit, over two to three months. She sent me photos. Once or twice our conversation ventured into sex and relationships, but not very often. Once, I was just out of the shower, and she asked me to show her my body and masturbate for her on my webcam, and I stupidly did so.

The next week, I got an email, followed up by a phone call and a letter. Gemma was a 43 year old man. He traced me using my IP address and the electoral roll. Yes, it can be done. He wanted money.

After two weeks of confusion, I told my wife, and the next morning I went to the police. They arrested me on the spot and seized my computers. Eventually they found about eight (yes, eight) photographs or videos, in various PCs that I had, of under-age girls which I had looked at, yes (as I argued to myself) out of curiosity.

That is what I am charged with, and that is why I am guilty of, and I understand society judging me for it, because I have done wrong.

The thing is, anyone who knows me thinks I am a nice man. It is the most commonly heard description of me. and actually, I am. I actually don’t just believe that – I am. I have aspects that are bad, and I have proved it, and I will be convicted for it. I am perhaps 99% good. It doesn’t matter to me at all whether you believe this. It’s important to me that I know it. The trouble is, to the police, to the Courts, to the outside world, to our society, it is the other 1% of me that will now define what I am. It will shape how others view me, the future course of my life and, very sadly, my family’s lives. Whatever else I am, I will be classified under the ‘P’ word, which even now I cannot say.

That is why I want to speak to you. The doctor, teacher, fireman, policeman, baker, tinker, tailor, IT worker – whoever. You will be male. You will be normal. Look at yourself – you could be me, couldn’t you?

Think about it. Be honest with yourself. And stop. This could happen to you. If I get just one of you to stop, to prevent this happening to you and to the innocent members of your family, then doing this will have been worthwhile.